Key to Umbria: Spello

Aerial view of the site of the sanctuary as monumentalised in the Augustan period 

The likely plan of the now-demolished theatre is overlaid at the lower left

The sanctuary at Villa Fidelia was monumentalised in ca. 27 BC, as discussed in my page on the Sanctuary at Villa Fidelia after Colonisation.  From that point, it comprised:

  1. a system of three terraces, with the middle one now forming the Italian garden of Villa Fidelia;

  2. two main temples, one at each end of this middle terrace:

  3. one temple almost certainly stood at the west end of the terrace, on the site of the present Villa Fidelia (although its existence is largely inferred from the symmetrical arrangement of the site); and

  4. the second temple (securely identified and known to have been dedicated to Venus after colonisation) stood at the east end, on a site that now belongs to the nunnery of the Suore Francescane Piccolo San Damiano;

  5. a remarkably large theatre that was symmetrically located in relation to these two main temples;

  6. a thermal complex near the site of the present church of San Claudio; and

  7. an amphitheatre, slightly further to the east.

As discussed below, a Templum Flaviae Gentis was built here in the 4th century AD. probably on the site of the present church of San Fedele.  This had been permitted by a rescript issued by the Emperor Constantine I in ca. 335 AD, the contents of which were recorded in an important inscription that was found nearby (discussed below).

Inscriptions from the Amphitheatre

Two other inscriptions from this period were found in the amphitheatre, one the pre-dates and one that post-dates the Rescript of Constantine:

Licinia Vittorina

This funerary inscription (CIL XI 5270, 285 - 325  AD), which was found in 1640 near the amphitheatre at Villa Fidelia (now in the Lapidarium in the atrium of Palazzo Comunale),  commemorates Licinia Vittorina, the wife of Caius Hispella Gavius Saturninus: both she and her husband held senatorial rank.  The inscription  was on the base of a statue that had been dedicated by a decree of the ‘splendidissimus ordo colon(iae) Hispellatium’ because of her chastity and munificence.  Given the find spot of the inscription, it seems likely that this munificence involved the financing of games here. 

Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus

A slightly later inscription (CIL XI 5283, 337 - 350 AD; see also LSA-1638), which was found in 1581, again  near the amphitheatre, (now in the Lapidarium in the atrium of Palazzo Comunale), commemorates Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus, son of Caius, of the Lemonia tribe, of equestrian rank:
  1. coronatus” (crowned priest) of the province of Tuscia et Umbria;

  2. pontifex gentis Flaviae” (priest of the cult of the gens Flavia, the family of the Emperor Constantine I);

  3. sponsor of lavish gladiatorial shows and especially enjoyable theatrical spectacles;

  4. holder of the following civic magistracies: aedile; quaestor; and  twice duovir quinquennale iure dicundo of “this most splendid colony”;

  5. curator rei publicae of the colony and first notable.

The whole plebs urbana (people) of Flavia Constans had erected this statue of “a most worthy patron, on account of the services of his kindness towards them”.  Again, given the find spot, it seems likely that the gladiatorial shows had taken place at the amphitheatre and the theatrical spectacles had similarly taken place at the nearby theatre.  This inscription is discussed below and, in more detail, in my pages on the Rescript of Constantine.

Rescript of Constantine

This inscription (CIL XI 5265), which is now exhibited in the Sala Zuccari of Palazzo Comunale Vecchio at Spello, was discovered in 1733 in what was then a cemetery on the site that had once been the site of the Augustan theatre (opposite the present church of San Fedele, discussed below).  It recorded the content of a rescript that had been issued by the Emperor Constantine I and his sons in ca. 335 AD.   This important inscription is discussed in more detail in my pages on the Rescript of Constantine.  In the sections below, I touch on the aspects of it that are relevant to the development of the sanctuary at Villa Fidelia.

In the rescript (or, more precisely, in the version of it that is reproduced in CIL XI 5265), Constantine replied (broadly in the affirmative) to three requests from Hispellum.  These are discussed in turn in the sections below.  I have relied on the English translation by Noel Lenski (referenced below, at pp 118-9) here.  However, where the translation is disputed, I have given the Latin in Italics and then the alternative translations.

Flavia Constans

The first request that Constantine addressed in the rescript was that he should:

  1. “... grant your city, which is now called Hispellum and which you report borders immediately on Via Flaminia, a name taken from our family name ... ”.

His reply was in the affirmative:

  1. “We have conceded to the city of Hispellum the eternal designation and venerable name  ... Flavia Constans ...”.

Thus Constantine responded to a request from the colony for a name related to that the imperial family by giving it the name of his youngest son, Flavius Constans, whom he had designated as Caesar in 333 AD, when the boy was about 10.  Constantine died in the spring of 337 AD, and his three surviving sons met at Sirmium some seven weeks later: there, the Danubian army proclaimed them as Augusti:

  1. Constantine II, for Gaul, Spain and Britain;

  2. Constantius II, for the Asian provinces and Egypt; and

  3. Constans for the Italian and African provinces and Pannonia.

Constantine II was killed during his attempted invasion Italy in 340 AD, and Hispellum then found itself named for the emperor of the whole of the western part of the Roman Empire.


The renaming of the colony is reflected in the two inscriptions discussed in the section above:

  1. the statue of Licinia Vittorina was erected before the issue of the rescript by the governors of the Colonia Hispellum; while

  2. the statue of Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus was erected after the issue of the rescript by the people of the colony of Flavia Constans

Templum Flaviae Gentis

Church of San Fedele, below Villa Fidelia

Stands on the foundations of the Templum Flaviae Gentis ??

The second request that Constantine addressed in the rescript was that:

  1. “... in [Hispellum], a templum Flaviae gentis [temple of the Flavian family] should be built in very grand fashion, in accord with the greatness of its name.”

Constantine’s reply was in the affirmative, with an important (if not altogether clear) qualification:

  1. “[In Hispellum], we wish to be completed, in grand fashion, a temple ... of the Flavian family ... with the following restriction being proscribed:

  2. “... that the temple dedicated to our name [should] not be polluted with the deceits of any contagious superstition.” 

John Curran (referenced below, p 181) pointed out that the superstition in question was probably animal sacrifice, since:

  1. “... [as] one of the most objectionable acts which the pagans practiced, Constantine could not sanction it in connection with the imperial cult.”

We might reasonably assume that Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus (above) officiated at this new temple in his capacity of pontifex gentis Flaviae.

Manconi, Camerieri and Cruciani (referenced below, 1996, pp 387-8) reported that an examination of  the small church of San Fedele, which stands near the present entrance to Villa Fidelia, had revealed the remains of:
  1. “... a structure that we can confidently date to the late Imperial period on the basis of the use of the [construction] technique of opera mixta, ....  We are dealing here with an element pertinent to a late phase of the sanctuary [at Villa Fidelia]  (3rd - 4th century AD), probably the phase recorded in the Rescript of Constantine” (my translation).  

The plan of this structure (at Figure 17 of Manconi’s paper) reveals an elongated hall with an apse, which later used as the foundations of the church. 


Plans of the putative temples of the gens Flavia at Hispellum and at Volsinii/ Bolsena

From the paper by Pietro Tamburini (referenced below, Figures 24 and 25)

With kind permission of the author

Filippo Coarelli  (referenced below, 2001, at p. 46) considered that:

  1. “The dating attributed to [the foundations of San Fedele] ... and the presence of an apse (which is typical of edifices of the imperial cult) allows us to identify it, without any doubt, as the temple of the gens Flavia mentioned in the Rescript ...”

Pietro  Tamburini  referenced below, at p. 559) suggested that this putative temple was the “pendant” of a similar one at Volsinii:

  1. “... it is entirely possible that the central nave of the civic basilica of Volsinii [the remains of which can be seen in the archeological area of Bolsena] was transformed in the first instance [i.e. at the time of Constantine I] not into a church [as some scholars argue], but into a temple of the deified members of the gens Flavia, the exact pendant of the building [under San Fedele] dedicated by the Hispellates to the imperial cult” (my translation).

He pointed out that:

  1. the putative Constantinian modification of the civic building at Bolsena had involved the elimination of its original side aisles  and the construction of an apse in opera mixta, the same construction technique used at San Fedele; and

  2. a bust of Constantine I that had been recut in ca. 315 AD from a bust of Octavian (now in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco, Viterbo) had been found in the location marked by an asterisk in the plan above. 

However, the scale bars in the diagrams above (Pietro Tamburini’s Figures 24 and 25) make it clear that the putative temple at Bolsena (ca. 40 x 13 meters) was roughly four times as long and twice as wide as that under San Fedele at Spello (ca. 12 x 16 meters).

  1. Pietro Taburini suggested (at note 86) that this was simply a consequence of the fact that the putative temple at Volsinii/ Bolsena had been created from a pre-existing structure while that at Hispellum had been built ex novo

  2. Paola Bonacci and Sabina Guiducci (referenced below, at p. 175), who also accepted Filippo Coarelli’s hypothesis, argued that:

  3. “The reduced dimensions of the building [under San Fedele], which hardly fit with [the ‘temple constructed in a grand fashion’ permitted by the rescript], might have been determined by a shortage of space, while the location of the construction, immediately facing  a road leading to Via Flaminia, fully confirms the symbolic and ideological value attributed to the building and attested in the rescript” (my translation).

Reconstruction of he sanctuary at Villa Fidelia in the 4th century AD

With kind permission of Paolo Camerieri (private communication)

In have to say that I find these explanations unconvincing: in my view, the relatively small size of the putative temple under San Fedele and its peripheral location make Coarelli’s hypothesis - that this was the magnificently-built Templum Flaviae Gentis - unlikely.  In this context, it is interesting to note a suggestion made by Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2012, at p. 437):

  1. “...  the main temple [of the Augustan complex], probably dedicated to Iuppiter, which [scholars have tried] in vain to trace on the upper terrace,  ... in my opinion should be sought below, in the vast area behind the theatre, at the centre of the whole complex and in an emphatic position... “ (my translation).

As I set out in my page on the Sanctuary at Villa Fidelia after Colonisation, I doubt that a temple dedicated to Iuppiter ever existed in the Augustan sanctuary.  However, I think that the location that Sisani suggested for it is the most likely location of the Templum Flaviae Gentis.  In this context, it is interesting to note that Paolo Camerieri and Dorica Manconi (referenced below, 2012, at p. 71) suggested, on archeological grounds, the possible existence of a cult site in front of the central fountain in the lower terrace.  In a recent communication, Paolo Camerieri suggested to me this possible reconstruction, in which:

  1. the magnificently-built the Templum Flaviae Gentis at the central cult site originally suggested by Camerieri and Manconi; and

  2. two smaller structures articulating the entrance to the sanctuary:

  3. the apsed structure under San Fedele; and

  4. a ‘twin’ of the latter structure symmetrically located below the Temple of Venus.

I am grateful to Paolo Camerieri for permission to reproduce his work.  (He notes three possible dedicatees of the temple that forms the twin to that of Venus: in my page on the Sanctuary at Villa Fidelia after Colonisation, I suggested a foruth,  divus Julius?).

Annual Theatrical Shows and Gladitorial Games

The third request that Constantine addressed in the rescript seems to have been made by the authorities of Hispellum on behalf of ‘Umbria’:

  1. The rescript first set out the background to this request:

  2. ... you have asserted that you were joined to Tuscia in such a way that:

  3. -according to istituto consuetudinis priscae [previous/ old/ ancient custom]; 

  4. -per singulas annorum vices [each year/ in alternate years];

  5. priests who are created by you and by the aforementioned offer theatrical shows and a gladiatorial contest apud [in, near] Volsinii, a city of Tuscia.”

  6. The rescript then summarised the request:

  7. “... because of the steepness of the mountains and the difficulties of the wooded routes [between the two cities], you have urgently demanded that, through the grant of a remedy, your priest may not be require to travel to Volsinii in order to celebrate the games  and, specifically ...:

  8. -that the priest whom Umbria had provided anniversaria vice [annually/ in alternate years] should [in future] offer a spectacle of both theatrical shows and a gladiatorial contest [at Hispellum];

  9. -even while the same custom remains for Tuscia: that the priest created [there] should attend the spectacles of the aforementioned games at Volsinii, as was customary.”

  10. Constantine’s  reply was carefully worded:

  11. Consequenter (as a consequence) [of the erection of the Templum Flaviae Gentis at Hispellum], we ... grant you permission to host the games [at Hispellum], on the specific condition that ... the tradition of giving games shall not depart from Volsinii per vices temporis [annually; in alternate years], where the aforementioned festival shall be celebrated by priests created from Tuscia.  In this way:

  12. -not much will seem to be diminished from veteribus institutis [previous/ ancient custom]; while 

  13. -you, who come to us as suppliants  ... will enjoy the pleasure of having obtained that  which you so urgently demanded.”

As Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 2001 at pp. 46-7) pointed out:

  1. “It would be difficult not to connect the games mentioned in the rescript with the structure of the sanctuary [at Villa Fidelia, where it was found: this sanctuary] included a theatre and amphitheatre, precisely the facilities used for ludi scaenici and gladiatorum munus [recorded in the rescript] ...” (my translation).

Thus, after the rescript, the priest whom Umbria provided officiated (either annually or in alternate years) at an ‘Umbrian’ version of this festival held at Villa Fidelia.

Read more:

N. Lenski, “Constantine and the Cities: Imperial Authority and Civic Politics”, (2016) Philadelphia

P. Camerieri and D. Manconi , “Il ‘Sacello’ di Venere a Spello: dalla Romanizzazione alla Reorganizzazione del Territorio: Spunti di Ricerca ", Rivista di Antichità, 21 (2012) 63-80

S. Sisani, “I Rapporti tra Mevania e Hispellum nel Quadro del Paesaggio Sacro della Valle Umbra,, in

  1. G. Della Fina (Ed.), “Il Fanum Voltumnae e i Santuari Comunitari dell’ Italia Antica”, (2012) Orvieto (pp. 409-64)

P. Camerieri and D. Manconi , “Le Centuriazioni della Valle Umbra da Spoleto a Perugia”, Bollettino di Archeologia on line  (2010)

P. Bonacci and S. Guiducci , “Hispellum: La Città e il Territorio”, (2009) Spello

P. Tamburini, “Bolsena: Emergenze Archeologiche a Valle della Città Romana”, in

  1. G. della Fina (Ed.), “Perugia Etrusca”, Annali della Fondazione per il Museo ‘Claudio Faina’, 9 (2002) pp 541-80

F. Coarelli, "Il Rescritto di Spello e il Santuario ‘Etnico’ degli Umbri”, in

  1. Umbria Cristiana: dalla Diffusione del Culto al Culto dei Santi,” Atti del XV Congresso Internazionale di Studi sull’ Alto Medioevo, Spoleto (2001) pp. 39-52

J. Curran, “Pagan City and Christian Capital: Rome in the 4th Century”, (2000) Oxford

D. Manconi, P. Camerieri and V. Cruciani, “Hispellum: Pianificazione Urbana e Territoriale”, in:

  1. G. Bonamente and F. Coarelli (Eds),“Assisi e gli Umbri nell' Antichità” Assisi (1996) pp. 375-423; the section on the sanctuary is at pp. 381-92

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